Leica X Vario: Manual Focusing

Focusing Manually | Finding Manual Focus with the Electronic Viewfinder (or the LCD Screen) | Focusing Aid: Magnification | Improving Manual Focusing for Short Focal Lengths | What Drives Me Crazy on the Leica X Vario when Focusing Manually? | Conclusions

On this page, I discuss manual focusing on the Leica X Vario using the electronic viewfinder (or the LCD screen*) and also whether the X Vario supports this sufficiently.

*) The displays are the same on both screens, but the EVF hat a higher resolution that the LCD screen.

Note: For a comparison of these features between the Leica X Vario and the Ricoh GXR A16, see page Leica X Vario and Ricoh GXR 16: Manual Focus Comparisons.

 

Focusing Manually

With the Leica X Vario, switching to manual focus is easy: Just turn the lens' focus ring from the "AF" position over a slight mechanical resistance to the right (see the photos below).

    

Focus set to AF

 

Focus set to infinity (as an example of manual focus)

Photos: Focus set to "AF" and infinity as an example of "MF"

Focusing manually with the X Vario is direct and convenient: You turn the focus ring to the desired position if you want to pre-focus, or you turn the focus ring while looking through in the viewfinder or at the LCD screen (which I rarely use for taking photos). Thus, you can use...

  • The distance scale on the focus ring of the lens (see photos below); there is no depth of field (DOF) indicator (see my DOF tables on this site).
  • The image displayed by the viewfinder/LCD screen (guided by sharpness of the relevant image part; a focus aid is offered by the screen magnification function)

Please note that there is no depth of field scale on the lens of the Leica X Vario. Also note that the X Vario does not have a dedicated macro mode (see page Close-Up Lens Experiments - Summary for potential options). For close-up shots, the tele end of the lens is the preferred setting, allowing to set the lowest distance (30 cm) and the largest possible magnification. The camera therefore reminds you to change the focal length to 70 mm whenever you want to set a close distance (which can be annoying at times...).

 

Finding Focus Manually with the Electronic Viewfinder (or the LCD Screen)

Electronic Viewfinder

You can attach an electronic viewfinder to the Leica X Vario's flash hot shoe. You can either buy the Leica Visoflex EVF 2 or the Olympus VF-2 at half the cost. Both seem to be identical, although some users, including me, have spurious issues with the Olympus version, which I bought. The viewfinders have a resolution of 1.4 Megapixels and show 100% of the image field (for details see page Electronic Viewfinder).

Here is a look through the VF-2 viewfinder of the Leica X Vario:

Photo: Look through the VF-2 viewfinder on the Leica X Vario

The photo was taken with my wife's Ricoh CX4 in macro mode (focus set to infinity). Of course, it does not show the details, for example, the pixels that I can discern in the X Vario's viewfinder. The pixels are indeed visible, and the image is fairly large. Personally, I find the colors in the viewfinder dull on the Leica X Vario (less so on the Leica M). The eyepiece can be tilted 90 degrees - a feature that I frequently use.

All in all, even without using any focusing aids, I find focusing manually using the viewfinder fairly easy with the X Vario, because the viewfinder image is large and shows a lot of details.

LCD Screen

The LCD screen shows the same information as the EVF, but has a lower resolution (0.9 MP versus 1.4 MP). Therefore, the following information is valid for both displays (photos show the LCD screen).

 

Focusing Aid: Magnification

The Leica X Vario only offers the enlargement of a part of the screen as a focusing aid. The enlarged part covers only part of the screen, it is not shown full-screen. This may be the reason for the comparatively low image quality of the enlarged section (see my discussion of this phenomenon elsewhere). Screen magnification can be turned on in the menu (MF Assist).

The magnified section of the image appears for about 2-3 seconds (5 seconds according to the manual). It comes up whenever the focus ring is turned. It also comes up for the same period of time when you press the DELETE/FOCUS button on the back (left side, second button from top - see photos below). Again, the magnified section disappears after about "nominally" 5 seconds.

 

No magnification

    

Section magnification

Photos: Screen (= section) magnification on the Leica X Vario

The enlarged section offers a magnification of about 6 x, but the image quality of the magnified section is poor (see my discussion of this phenomenon elsewhere) so that I usually focus manually without using screen magnification. The magnified section can be moved around using the direction pad. However, this option makes sense to me only for shots where the camera is on a tripod - I never use it for hand-held shots.

Note: The Leica X Vario does NOT have focus peaking.

 

Improving Manual Focusing for Short Focal Lengths

Focusing manually at the wide end is difficult because of the larger depth of field. For zoom lenses, you can, however, use a technique that Daniel Martin (calithumpian in the l-camera-forum) discovered when he was thinking about the noises that the X Vario's lens makes when it is zoomed. He wrote me in an e-mail:

He experimented further and reported to me:

Inspired by Daniel's findings, I did some tests on my own and was able to confirm his results. You can find the Exif data of one of my tests in the appendix below (please note that the Exif distance values vary slightly even if the photographer does nothing). My test procedure was as follows:

The AF shots were meant to have a measure of comparison and to see what distance AF would set. The final two shots were made to investigate how focusing manually at the wide end would work.

I took one series using a tripod and a second one hand-held. I will discuss this below.

Here are two sample shots to illustrate the scene that I used in one of my tests (I focused on the rim of the pot at the center of the image; the Exif data below are from this test):

    
Scene taken with 70 mm (46 mm)   Scene taken with 28 mm (18 mm)

All in all, my test results are in line with what Daniel found out. The distance that AF set always was a little bit farther away than most of my manual settings, but this may have been caused by the specific scene that I used (I focused on the rim of the pot). The manually set shots at 28 mm (18 mm) differ most from all the other shots (in one case the distance is shortest, in the other, it is widest). This may reflect that it is indeed harder to find the right focus at shorter focal lengths (the focus does not seem to be as "snappy" as for longer focal lengths).

Finally, with respect to the algorithm that Daniel refers to, I think that Leica simply keeps the distance value (that is shown in the Exif data) constant and adjusts the movable lens element that cares for the correct focus accordingly - thus the noise of the focus motor and a slight delay in setting the correct focus). This may, however, require some complex internal calculations (or the use if data tables).

Tripod Versus Hand-Held

For tripod shots, focusing at the long end and then zooming to the wide end is a no-brainer and a perfect solution. For hand-held shots, things are, however, a bit more complex for a number of reasons, such as:

In all these cases, focus may be incorrect at the time of the shot, even though it may have been set correctly. This is particularly an issue in a range of, say 0.5 m to 2 m, not so much for larger distances. It might even be a greater problem for close-up shots, but usually I take close-up shots with the X Vario at 70 mm (46 mm) anyway...

All in all, with hand-held shots, this method cannot secure an optimal focus because the camera might be moved between focusing and when the actual shot is taken.

 

What Drives Me Crazy on the Leica X Vario when Focusing Manually?

There are three things with respect to manual focusing on the Leica X Vario that drive me almost crazy:

 

Conclusions

Focusing manually with the Leica X Vario is, in principle, easy with the electronic viewfinder. You can improve manual focusing at the wide end by focusing at the long end and then zooming to the wide end without touching the focus ring (as Daniel Martin suggested to me in an e-mail).

The screen magnification function is, however, poorly implemented. The duration that the magnified section is displayed is too short for me. The image quality of the magnified section is also insufficient. Therefore, I prefer to focus manually on the X Vario without using screen magnification. Last, but not least, the default colors in the viewfinder are dull, but that can be changed in the menus.

 

Appendix: Exif Data of Test Shots

Here are the important Exif data for my test shots described above.

Tripod Shots

    

Hand-held Shots

======== /Users/gerd/Desktop/MH 20140528 Fokustests

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 1 0 0 0 (AF)
Original File Name : L1016443.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1480 46000 0 0
Aperture : 6.4

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 1 0 0 0 (AF)
Original File Name : L1016444.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1440 46000 0 0
Aperture : 6.4

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 0 0 0 0 (MF set)
Original File Name : L1016445.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1322 46000 0 0
Aperture : 6.4

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 0 0 0 0
Original File Name : L1016446.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1325 46000 0 0
Aperture : 6.4

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 0 0 0 0
Original File Name : L1016447.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1318 18000 0 0
Aperture : 3.5

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 0 0 0 0
Original File Name : L1016448.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1320 18000 0 0
Aperture : 3.5

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 0 0 0 0
Original File Name : L1016449.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1329 46000 0 0
Aperture : 6.4

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 0 0 0 0
Original File Name : L1016450.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1322 46000 0 0
Aperture : 6.4

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 1 0 0 0 (AF)
Original File Name : L1016451.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1440 46000 0 0
Aperture : 6.4

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 1 0 0 0 (AF)
Original File Name : L1016452.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1420 46000 0 0
Aperture : 6.4

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 1 0 0 0 (AF)
Original File Name : L1016453.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1360 18000 0 0
Aperture : 3.5

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 1 0 0 0 (AF)
Original File Name : L1016454.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1420 18000 0 0
Aperture : 3.5

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 0 0 0 0 (MF set)
Original File Name : L1016455.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1241 18000 0 0
Aperture : 3.5

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 0 0 0 0
Original File Name : L1016456.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1243 18000 0 0
Aperture : 3.5

  ======== /Users/gerd/Desktop/MH 20140528 Fokustests

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 1 0 0 0 (AF)
Original File Name : L1016458.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1500 46000 0 0
Aperture : 6.4

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 1 0 0 0 (AF)
Original File Name : L1016459.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1400 46000 0 0
Aperture : 6.4

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 0 0 0 0 (MF set)
Original File Name : L1016460.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1336 46000 0 0
Aperture : 6.4

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 0 0 0 0
Original File Name : L1016461.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1332 46000 0 0
Aperture : 6.4

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 0 0 0 0
Original File Name : L1016462.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1341 18000 0 0
Aperture : 3.5

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 0 0 0 0
Original File Name : L1016463.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1341 18000 0 0
Aperture : 3.5

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 0 0 0 0
Original File Name : L1016464.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1339 46000 0 0
Aperture : 6.4

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 0 0 0 0
Original File Name : L1016465.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1336 46000 0 0
Aperture : 6.4

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 1 0 0 0 (AF)
Original File Name : L1016466.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1500 46000 0 0
Aperture : 6.4

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 1 0 0 0 (AF)
Original File Name : L1016467.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1440 46000 0 0
Aperture : 6.4

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 1 0 0 0 (AF)
Original File Name : L1016468.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1420 18000 0 0
Aperture : 3.5

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 1 0 0 0 (AF)
Original File Name : L1016469.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1540 18000 0 0
Aperture : 3.5

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 0 0 0 0 (MF set)
Original File Name : L1016470.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1715 18000 0 0
Aperture : 3.5

Panasonic Leica 5 0x0404 : 0 0 0 0
Original File Name : L1016471.JPG
Panasonic Leica 5 0x040a : 1717 18000 0 0
Aperture : 3.5

For details regarding the "hidden" Exif fields, see page Manufacturer-Specific Exif Data

 

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08.03.2016